FOLKSTON (AP) — Ground crews with plows and bulldozers worked Wednesday to box in the West Mims wildfire threatening communities at the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp — and had a pretty good day on the offensive against the fire.
The fire did make a push west of St. George, south of Highway 94 and north of Road 8, “between two fingers of the fire,” according to fire managers, said fire public information officers late Wednesday.
Firefighters have battled to keep the blaze away from rural homes on both sides of the Florida state line since winds last weekend pushed flames outside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, where lightning sparked the fire April 6.
The towns of St. George and Moniac on the swamp’s southeastern edge remained under mandatory evacuations for a fourth day Wednesday with the woods burning just a few miles away.
Planes and helicopters were dropping water and chemical fire retardant on the flames Wednesday as ground crews fortified fire breaks plowed alongside roads to the south and east of the advancing fire, said Susan Heisey, a spokeswoman for the multi-agency fire command team. She said milder than expected fire growth gave firefighters extra time to try to box in the fire.
“Hopefully it will help tremendously,” said Heisey, chief ranger for the Okefenokee refuge. “But we still are in drought conditions with extreme heat and really low humidity. The potential is really high today for fire growth.”
As of this morning the fire had charred more than 144,000 acres, mostly on public land inside the refuge. Fire officials said in a news release they consider the blaze 12 percent contained.
They have estimated the fire could burn into November.
Heisey said no homes have burned and no injuries had been reported from the fire.
Firefighters from the Waycross and Ware County fire departments continue to commute daily to Charlton County to assist in the effort.
While officials in surrounding Charlton County have urged residents nearest the fire to leave, many have stayed in hopes of protecting their homes.
A public meeting for the sake of citizens is planned today at 6 p.m. in Folkston at the Charlton County Annex, 68 Kingsland Drive.
Rejoining the fight Wednesday was a modified DC-10 jet liner capable of dumping 11,600 gallons of retardant chemicals — roughly four times the amount of any other firefighting plane. Taking off from Chattanooga, Tenn., the giant air tanker made its first drop Tuesday, but a planned second run was scrapped because of heavy smoke.